Rabindranath Tagore translated his own Bengali poems (from the Bengali Gitanjali and some other collections) into English and created the Gitanjali, literally Song Offerings. It is a collection of 103 poems. The collection is called Song Offerings because Tagore set his Bengali poems to music. In these poems the poet expresses thoughts on life, the love for God, hopes for the future of the country, reflections on human relationships, admiration of the beauty of nature. All the poems are deeply spiritual. Again and again the poet urges the readers to look into their own souls and find God there.
The original Bengali version was published in 1910 and the English version was brought out in 1912. The collection won Tagore the Nobel Prize in 1913. The poems were written at different times and are of different styles. Nevertheless, they are all united by the poet’s search for the purpose of existence and for God, especially important to him after the loss of several loved ones.
The poems are written in deceptively simple language. The Bengali versions have regular metres and are also beautiful songs. The English versions are often more prose than poetry. Sometimes the poems seem very repetitive, but each of them offers a new insight into the poet’s philosophy.
I haven’t read much of the English translations as I know Bengali. Also, I’m not sure when I first read the poems. Since childhood I’ve heard the poems being recited or sung. Many lines became familiar before I could understand what they meant. Since some of the songs are extremely popular I have known them for a long time without bothering myself about the hidden meaning in them. I found that reading something familiar and discovering new meaning in it is a wonderful feeling. And the poems are so layered that they never cease to surprise. They are poems to be read or heard again and again. Most of the time they seem as meaningless as everyday noises, but sometimes when I’m patient enough to listen, and not just hear, they make me very happy. Perhaps the reader who reads this collection without any prior knowledge of Tagore’s works is luckier than the person who has been exposed to his poems at too early an age. But I’m glad that in my case there was an over-familiarity, as it has given me the chance to rediscover the poems and be continually surprised along the way.
Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta
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